Norman Lamb leads debate on Valproate scandal

The Government has a moral duty to provide financial assistance to the thousands of families affected by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate, Norman Lamb argued in the House of Commons today. 

Since the 1970s, around 20,000 children have been born with severe congenital defects and developmental problems after medical regulators deliberately withheld information about the risks of taking the drug during pregnancy.  Leading a debate in Parliament, the North Norfolk MP called for an inquiry or a Hillsborough-style panel to find out “how on earth this outrageous scandal could ever have happened”, in addition to financial support for the victims.

He urged the Government to ensure that women are given mandatory warnings about the risks of taking valproate during pregnancy, after a recent survey found that more than two-thirds (68%) of women have still not received a set educational materials that were released in February 2016 to make sure that all those of childbearing age are fully informed of the dangers before being prescribed the medicine. 

During the debate, Norman highlighted the experiences of Becky Parish in Norfolk, whose seven year-old son was born with several abnormalities and developmental disorders due to ‘Fetal Valproate Syndrome’ – including a prominent cleft lip and palate, speech difficulties, low height and weight, and aggressional and destructive behavioural problems. Becky was originally blamed for her son’s behaviour by social services, who thought that the problems related to a detachment disorder until he was eventually diagnosed with Fetal Valproate Syndrome by a geneticist.

Closing his speech, the MP argued that there is “an overwhelming moral case” for a financial package for those affected, similar to the support provided to victims of thalidomide. He pointed to a €10 million fund that was recently established for valproate victims in France, and urged the Government to consider similar proposals in the UK.

Responding to the debate, Health Minister Philip Dunne said that the Government is “taking the matter seriously”.  He declined to directly address the question of compensation or an inquiry. However, Norman Lamb – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Valproate – is scheduled to meet with the health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy in December to discuss these issues further.

Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:

“This is a massive and continuing scandal. It beggars belief that women have been kept in the dark for decades about the risks of taking Valproate during pregnancy. Now it has emerged that the regulator took a decision to hide the risks from women when Valproate was first licensed in the 1970s.

“Now there is a moral imperative that the Government do right by all those affected. It is estimated that 20,000 babies have been born with birth defects or developmental problems. Mothers have been left distraught and suffering guilt when they themselves are the victims. They deserve an apology and a financial support package. There also needs to be an Inquiry or Hillsborough-style Panel to get to the bottom of how this massive failure can have happened.

“I am meeting the Health Minister in December to discuss these demands along with other members of the cross-party group, and I hope that he will accept the case we are making.”

 

Notes

The full debate, including Norman Lamb’s speech, can be read here.

Studies have shown that children exposed to the drug during pregnancy are at an approx. 11% risk of congenital malformations at birth, compared with a 2% to 3% risk in the general population. These include spina bifida, facial defects (e.g. cleft palate) and neural tube defects.  Studies show a 30-40% risk of developmental problems, including delayed walking and talking, memory problems, difficulty with speech and language, lower intellectual ability. Children exposed to valproate in the womb are also at an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders (link).

Medicines regulators were aware of the dangers of the drug as far back as 1973.  However, meeting minutes recently uncovered by campaigners reveal that a decision was made to keep the information from women “as it may give rise to fruitless anxiety”. Although the Committee on Safety of Medicines recommended that prescribers should be informed of the risks, it advised that these warnings should not be included in packaging leaflets “so that there would be no danger of patients themselves seeing it.”

Following a Europe-wide review of the safety of the medicine in 2013-14, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) released a toolkit of educational materials in February 2016 to ensure that healthcare professionals and all women taking sodium valproate are aware of these dangers.  However, a survey in September 2017 by three epilepsy charities revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of women of childbearing age had still not received any of the materials – putting hundreds of unborn children at continued risk.

The following motion was debated, and passed without a vote.

That this House notes with concern that there has been a systematic failure to inform women of the dangers of taking the epilepsy drug sodium valproate during pregnancy, resulting in thousands of children being born with congenital malformations, disabilities and developmental disorders since the 1970s as a result of fetal exposure to the drug; welcomes the launch of the Valproate Toolkit by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in February 2016 to ensure that women are informed of the potential risks of the drug, but further notes with concern a recent survey which found that 68 per cent of women have still not received these safety warnings; calls on the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that the materials in the Valproate Toolkit are distributed to all prescribing clinicians, pharmacists, and women who are being prescribed the drug; calls on the Government to require all clinicians prescribing sodium valproate to women and girls of childbearing age to discuss annually with the patient the risks during pregnancy before a prescription is renewed; and further calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for a care plan and financial assistance to the victims of sodium valproate in pregnancy and their families.

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Dangerous uncertainty for community transport must end

The future of community transport in North Norfolk could be put under threat if new rules force providers to apply for expensive operator licenses, Norman Lamb warned in the House of Commons today.

Speaking in Transport Questions, the North Norfolk MP urged the Government to clarify whether services in North Norfolk will now have to apply for the licenses, after local community transport groups raised concerns that the cost of doing so could push their businesses under.

Under the current system, community transport providers operating on a non-profit basis have been able to apply for permits allowing them to carry passengers without first holding the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence.

However, there has been growing controversy around the different treatment of commercial and non-commercial businesses, and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) recently ruled that one non-commercial service was failing to comply with legal operating requirements by not holding a full license.

The Government subsequently confirmed that other non-commercial services could now be expected to hold a full PSV operator’s licence and use drivers with specific qualifications. However, the Department for Transport has not announced which companies the new operating requirements will apply, or when a proposed consultation will begin. It says that while not all local community transport providers will be affected by the new ruling, it “is likely to affect larger operators in what may in effect be commercial operations”.

Community transport providers in North Norfolk now face significant uncertainty as to whether – and when – they will be expected to comply with the new requirements. There are also concerns about the cost of training drivers up to the new standards, which could see some organisations become non-viable.

In the House of Commons, Norman pressed the Government to end the ‘dangerous’ uncertainty for community transport providers, and to set a date for the long-awaited consultation. He asked:

“Many community transport operators, including North Norfolk Community Transport, are concerned that the new ruling will push them under, losing absolutely vital rural community transport links. What is the minister doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and what is the timescale for the consultation – when will this actually come in? Because the uncertainty is very dangerous.”

The Transport Minister, Jesse Norman MP, responded:

I fully recognise the concern. As he will know, the Department is taking a very careful attitude. There will be no rapid over-enforcement on this. We will be giving people as much chance as possible to show that their activities are not commercial in the required sense. We launch the consultation later this autumn and I think we’ll take it from there.”

Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:

“There is a real uncertainty hanging over community transport providers in North Norfolk and across the whole country. These organisations provide vital transport services for many villages, and are particularly important for elderly and disabled people who otherwise face being isolated. I have real concerns that this ongoing uncertainty could have serious consequences by leaving transport services unable to plan for the year ahead. 

“It was disappointing that the Government failed to set a firm date for the consultation or clarify when the new requirements will come into effect. I will be writing to the Transport Secretary to demand clarification on these points.” 

Read the full story in the Eastern Daily Press

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Norman to lead House of Commons debate on Valproate scandal

Norman Lamb will lead a debate in the House of Commons next Thursday (19th October) calling on the Government to provide financial assistance and a care plan for the thousands of families affected by the Valproate scandal.

It is estimated that up to 20,000 children have been born with disabilities and congenital abnormalities as a result of women being unaware of the risks of taking the drug, which is used to treat epilepsy, during pregnancy. These can include spina bifida, memory problems, poor speech and language skills, and lower intellectual abilities.

Health authorities were aware of the serious adverse effects of valproate in the early 1970s, but decided not to include warnings on package inserts as it was thought that this “could give rise to fruitless anxiety”.  Thousands of pregnant women have continued to take the medicine in the four decades since, unaware of the risks that it presents to the unborn child when taken in pregnancy.

In February 2016, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) launched the ‘Valproate Toolkit’, a collection of materials designed to ensure that the risks associated with valproate are routinely and effectively communicated to women who are being prescribed the medicine.

However, the distribution of these materials has been deeply flawed, with a recent survey by three national epilepsy charities showing that 68% of women had not received the new safety warnings.

Norman Lamb, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Valproate and Other Anti-Epileptic Drugs in Pregnancy, has been campaigning for the Government, NHS England and the MHRA to take urgent action to ensure that all women are fully aware of the risks of taking Valproate in pregnancy.  The Group is also urging ministers to provide appropriate financial assistance to families affected by ‘Fetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome’, after the French Parliament voted to create a €10 million nationwide compensation fund in November 2016.

The three-hour debate has been co-sponsored by Labour MP Paul Flynn and the Conservatives’ Graham Brady, who are also members of the APPG.

Commenting after securing the debate, Norman Lamb said:

“This is one of the most severe health scandals in history. It bears a number of striking similarities to the thalidomide tragedy.

“For more 40 years, women with epilepsy have been taking the drug with no real idea about the risk to their unborn child. Health regulators decided at the time to keep these hidden from patients, and there has been ongoing complacency about alerting women to the potential risk. The consequences for thousands of children and their families have been life-changing.

“A new toolkit was launched last year to ensure that warnings are properly communicated, but recent surveys have shown that a worrying number of women are still not receiving the information they need to make an informed choice about whether to take the medicine.

“It is critically important that the Government acts to ensure that the warnings are getting through. I am also strongly of the view that there should be financial assistance for people who have suffered as a result of this extraordinary failure.  That is what I will be calling for on Thursday.  I hope that the debate will highlight cross-party strength of feeling on the issue, and persuade the government to act. The moral imperative to do so is overwhelming."

 

Additional Information

Further information about the Valproate Toolkit can be found on the official website here.

The role of medical experts and regulators in hiding the risks to pregnant women recently featured prominently in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail, Sky News, and BBC News.

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Speech at the Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference 2017

Today at the Liberal Democrats' Autumn Conference 2017, I set out my vision for a liberal, modern and dynamic NHS and care system which treats everybody with dignity and compassion.  

The full text of the speech is below. Alternatively, you can watch it online here (skip to 2:52:32). 

***

On Saturday, I celebrated - if that is the right word - my 60th Birthday.

And here I have my first free prescription.

Yet today, I earn just the same as I earned last week.

How can you possibly justify this perk when an 18 year old with a long-term condition, like cystic fibrosis, has to pay for theirs?

Or when we see people being denied a hip replacement, or IVF treatment?

When a teenager can be left waiting a year for mental health treatment?

This ludicrous benefit for many people on high pay is yet one more powerful reason why we need a national conversation about how we guarantee the future of our NHS and our social care system.

I have been pressing the Government for the best part of two years to work with other parties to establish an NHS and Care Convention with the aim of delivering a new settlement.

We face difficult choices.

Partisan politics has failed to come up with solutions. 

So let's accept that and work together to deliver a once in a lifetime renewal of the NHS and our care system.

But this needs the Government to act.

Theresa May, we have waited long enough. Work with us.

Parties can go on hurling abuse at each other but it doesn't help an elderly person with dementia get the care they need.

I was proud that we were the only party at the last election to offer an ambitious, credible plan to give the NHS and social care additional resources - through a penny on income tax.

But this solves only one part of the problem.

That great Liberal, William Beveridge, recognised right back in the 1940's that the people of this country were being let down, that they deserved better.

So he proposed a National Health Service. His vision has served this country well.

And the fundamental principle of the NHS - that you get care, when you need it, regardless of your ability to pay - is as important now as it ever was.

It says something profound about who we are - a sense of solidarity, that we look out for one another.

But the health challenges of today are radically different to what Beveridge grappled with.

Again, today, 70 years on, families the length and breadth of this country are too often badly let down.

So many incredible people work in our NHS - totally dedicated to the care and treatment of patients.

Our brilliant doctors, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, cleaners, porters.

But they are working under incredible pressure.

Take the paramedics I met with in Norfolk recently. They are deeply concerned about the impact on acutely ill patients of long delays. They frequently work horribly long shifts.

I don't know about you, but I think NHS staff deserve a proper pay rise.

And remember all those people from across the EU who help keep our NHS and care system going.

Guarantee to them NOW the right to stay, Mrs May.

As we approach the 70th Birthday of the NHS those brilliant staff work in a system that is too often fragmented, dysfunctional and starved of resources.

And we have to confront the fact that in many ways, we fall short.

The Commonwealth Fund has just ranked the NHS as the best healthcare system in the world - for the second time running. An amazing achievement.

But it also revealed some sobering truths. We were ranked just 10th out of 11 high-income countries on outcomes for patients. We compared poorly with other countries on survival rates for cancer, and had the third highest death rate among stroke patients.

On access to new medicines that could transform people's lives, Britain already lags behind other countries including many of our European neighbours.

And now, the NHS has introduced a cap on the overall cost of a new drug - allowing it to restrict access to a new treatment for cancer or a rare genetic disease, even if it has been approved as good value for money by the medicines watchdog, NICE.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disturbing advance of rationing in the NHS.

How many stories have we seen about restrictions on access to treatment and the removal of services, without any transparency or public debate?

And the 18 weeks to treatment target, shamefully abandoned.  

Many of you will know of my mission to achieve justice for those who experience mental ill health or who are autistic or have a learning disability.

As with so many people in this hall, I have been informed by family experience.

My own sister, Catherine, took her own life.

So I particularly want to speak about how the system lets down some of the most vulnerable people.

Across the country, children are routinely left waiting three years for an autism diagnosis - yet we know that early intervention can make a massive difference to a child's life chances.

I met with a tearful mother of a 14 year old boy who has just been told, one year after referral, that he is likely to get an autism diagnosis in two years. He will have left school by the time it arrives.

This is a scandalous failure.

In children's mental health services, long waits and outrageous thresholds for admission are common.

Teenagers with an eating disorder are too often turned away from treatment: 'Your Body Mass Index isn't low enough'.

Would we ever turn away someone with cancer and effectively tell them to come back when they are at death's door?

Remember, like cancer, eating disorders can kill.

A father in North Norfolk described to me how his teenage daughter with significant mental illness had been told that she would have to wait 6 to 9 months to start her treatment!

And then there are those who are shunted across the country because there is no care available close to home.

Things are so bad that a senior judge had to intervene in August to demand a bed be found for a teenage girl who was acutely ill and about to be released from youth custody.

The nation, he said, would have 'blood on its hands' if an NHS bed could not be found.

Additional funding secured by the Lib Dems in the last Coalition Budget - £1.25bn over five years – is not all being delivered.  In year 1, almost half of the money was diverted elsewhere. In year 2, half of local areas fell short of what they should have spent.

Shockingly, the Care Quality Commission reported in July that there are 3,500 beds in locked mental health rehabilitation wards - a contradiction in terms.

Often a long way from home. Institutionalised. Isolated from friends and family. This has to change. 

The CQC also highlighted the use of force to restrain patients.

Four years on from the guidance I issued as minister to end the use of face-down restraint, the practice still persists in far too many places.

My investigation last year revealed a staggering 12,347 cases of face-down restraint in a single year - 33 each day.

Imagine having suffered abuse earlier in your life and then experiencing the physical force of face down restraint in a mental health ward.

This can destroy trust and can be appallingly traumatic for the individual.

And yet inspiring, progressive practitioners in many places have pretty much eradicated this practice. So it can be done.

Take Fauzia. She was admitted to an independent hospital at the age of 15. Fauzia has autism.

Soon, her family became horrified by the treatment she was receiving. Repeated heavy use of restraint; often placed, on her own, in a small cell-like bare room.

They were desperate to get her out. But they were completely ignored. No one listened to them.

Eventually, Fauzia's aunt spoke to me. I took the unusual step, as minister, of deciding to visit Fauzia.

I was horrified by what I saw and heard. I initiated a review. We got her out, eventually. After two years.

Recently, I visited her again in a wonderful home. From the day she left, she had not been restrained on a single occasion. She was a totally transformed person. Talking constantly. Happy. She now has a good life.

But there are many other Fauzia's around the country – hidden away from public view, with no one fighting for them. It is a stain on this country's reputation.

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that "No one shall be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment". The uncomfortable truth is that in Britain in 2017, many people are.

And it is a scandal of our time that there are so many people in our prisons, who are there, in large part, because of their mental ill health. Yet their chances of proper care and treatment are not good.

There were a catastrophic 40,000 cases of self-harm in our prisons last year. Every three days, a life was lost to suicide.

My vision of a liberal society is one where we marry a celebration of great technological advances, a dynamic, successful country with rich culture, joyous entertainment with a commitment to justice, to compassion, and humanity, where no one is left behind, neglected or ignored.

We can do this. As we make our case for a 21st Century Beveridge Report we should think about how we apply our Liberal principles to the great endeavour of renewing our NHS and our care system.

Yes we must argue the case for more resources as I have consistently done.

But we should also think about how money is spent. How we achieve the best results for people. How we help to give people a happy life, a good life.

The following principles should guide us:

First, we need a big bold commitment to end the shameful and growing inequalities of health.

The causes of these inequalities mostly lie well beyond the NHS - poor housing, poverty, education.

But we can't continue to tolerate the fact that for every station on the Jubilee Line heading east from Westminster, a year of life expectancy is lost - and it's the same stark differences in every city.

Second, in any new settlement for the NHS there must be genuine equality for those who suffer from mental ill health. We have to bridge the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

Third, we have an extraordinary workforce in the NHS and in social care.

But they too often feel disempowered, ignored, subject to repeated and often conflicting diktat from on high.

Too often it amounts to a bullying culture where brave whistleblowers are destroyed rather than treated as heroes for uncovering wrongdoing or poor care.

I want a Liberal vision - transforming the culture, unleashing brilliant social entrepreneurs, encouraging innovation.

Think about what that great Liberal, Jo Grimond, might have done. Let's apply the principles of mutualism to the NHS - giving people a stake in their organisations, a say in how their service is run.

Fourth, we need to make a fundamental shift of focus to prevention.

We now know that children who suffer trauma or neglect in early years have a higher risk of poor health, low educational attainment, worklessness and often fall into the criminal justice system.

We let these most vulnerable children down horribly. And it costs the state a fortune.

Yet we know that intervening before the trauma has set in, working with parents, we can transform lives - so let's do it. Make the big investment. It will pay off.

Equally, let's set a ten year plan to get employers really focused on the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

As part of my work chairing a Commission on mental health in the West Midlands, I've proposed a 'Wellbeing Premium' - a temporary discount on your business rates if you take tangible steps to improve wellbeing at work. The evidence is there of what works. So let's do it.

And should we not set a clear requirement that any company bidding for public contracts MUST demonstrate that they are a good employer, that they care for their workers? Why should we give work to corporate cowboys? 

Fifth, we should embrace the Manchester model of devolution – empowering local leaders and communities to shape a health and care system that works for them. 

Sixth, we must give people control of their health - access on their iPhone to their health records, helping them to self care, giving them control over the budget for managing chronic conditions. A distinctly liberal idea. 

Finally, we are on the brink of a complete revolution in healthcare. Emerging innovations in personalised healthcare, digital technologies and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform the way we can diagnose, treat, and prevent ill health.

Just look at precision medicine in cancer and rare diseases, targeting specific groups of patients based on their genetic data. 

And take sepsis, which kills 44,000 people a year in this country – equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every three days. New advances in artificial intelligence offer hope of a major breakthrough in how we understand, identify and treat this condition. 

Yes there must be proper safeguards, but we should make the case for investment in technologies that have the potential to improve care, save lives and to significantly reduce cost.

I often hear young doctors talking about how they are losing confidence in the future of the NHS, demoralised, worn down by the strain of rota gaps, anxious about having to make impossible choices over which sick patients get treatment, a system under impossible pressure with no hope of anything changing.

We need to offer people - patients and staff - a new vision. A modern, efficient NHS and care system which gels the smartest innovations, the best use of resources with dignity, with compassion and with justice. That is our vision.

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Maximum waiting times for autism diagnosis needed

The Government could make a “massive difference” to people’s life chances by introducing a maximum waiting time standard for an autism diagnosis, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.

In a Westminster Hall debate, the North Norfolk MP highlighted the dreadfully long waits some children in Norfolk are facing before they receive a diagnosis of autism, as well as being “pushed from pillar to post” because of a lack of joined-up care between mental health and autism services in the NHS. 

Under the current national standards, people with possible autism should have their diagnostic assessment started within 3 months of their referral. However, there is no maximum waiting time standard from referral to a final diagnosis of autism.

Norman pointed out the injustice that while some families are able to pay privately for a diagnosis or ask their MP to intervene to speed up the process, other families who can’t afford to go private or who “don’t know how to battle the system” are too often left waiting interminably.

Calling on ministers to address this, Mr Lamb said: “There is an absolute obligation on the Government to set a national maximum waiting time standard not just for the first appointment, but for achieving the diagnosis to give those families hope.”  An early diagnosis and early intervention “can make a massive difference to your life chances”, he argued, giving individuals a “good, fulfilled life” with “significantly improved” employment prospects.

Commenting after the debate, he said:

“Young people’s futures are being effectively undermined because they don’t receive an early diagnosis of autism. This often means they don’t get the additional support they need at school, college or in the workplace.

“I have been particularly concerned about the situation in Norfolk, where I have been contacted by several families telling me that their child faces a wait of up to three years for a diagnosis.  It’s utterly scandalous – but this reflects the situation across much of the country. 

“The current guidance on autism diagnosis falls far short of what’s needed. Even if someone starts their assessment within 3 months of being referred, in line with the national target, it can often take years for the diagnosis to be completed and nobody is held to account. I hope today’s timely debate will spur the Government on to introducing an ambitious waiting time standard for a final autism diagnosis, and make the necessary investment in local services so that this target can be met.

“In Norfolk I am pleased that action is being taken to end the practice of children being referred across from the mental health trust to Norfolk Community Health and Care in circumstances where a child has both mental health problems and needs an autism diagnosis. I met with the chief executives of these two trusts and they have responded positively to the need for a joined up approach.”

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Save The #ClassOf2018

Norman Lamb has tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament in support of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide's campaign to Save The #ClassOf2018, to raise awareness of the scale of suicide in schoolchildren and build suicide-safer schools and colleges.

The EDM can be read online, and you can learn more about PAPYRUS' campaign here.  

SAVE THE #CLASSOF2018

That this House welcomes World Suicide Prevention Day, which took place on 10 September 2017 to raise awareness and promote worldwide action to prevent suicides; recognises that suicide is the biggest killer of young people, male and female, aged under 35 in the UK; is deeply concerned that over 200 children of school age die by suicide every year in the UK, and believes that this is a national tragedy; supports the launch of national charity PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide's campaign to Save The #ClassOf2018, to raise awareness of the scale of suicide in schoolchildren and build suicide-safer schools and colleges; welcomes the charity's new suicide prevention guide for teachers and school staff as part of this campaign, covering issues including language around suicide, identifying if a child is suicidal, intervention and postvention, to equip staff with the skills and confidence needed to support children who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts; affirms that suicide is not inevitable and can be prevented; and urges the Government to pledge its support for the Save The #ClassOf2018 campaign as part of a national Zero Suicides strategy.

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Norman praises 'Blue Light Champions' for mental health

Norman Lamb has praised MIND and UNISON for the success of the ‘Blue Light Champions’ project in raising awareness of mental health problems among staff at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

The North Norfolk MP is also applauding the 70 employees at the trust who have volunteered to become Blue Light Champions, taking action in the workplace to raise the profile of mental health problems in their areas, to challenge mental health stigma, and to undertake training to support colleagues in their role.

MIND has been providing a range of training programmes at the trust, including mental health awareness and stop suicide training.  Training sessions across the region have been funded by UNISON, which has been vital for the success of the scheme to date. 

On Monday night, a report broadcast on BBC Look East (West) Evening News highlighted the work of MIND and the positive impact the Blue Light Champions project is having in emergency services – including police, fire, ambulance, and search and rescue staff. A group of local Blue Light Champions from across the emergency services have also taken part in a training film, as well as a film celebrating the impact of their work.

Mr Lamb will commend all those involved in the project during a House of Commons debate on NHS Pay tomorrow (Wednesday 13th September).

Commenting, Norman Lamb said:

“Frontline staff in our emergency services often have to deal with difficult situations involving people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, but many will also suffer from mental health problems themselves.

“That is why MIND’s initiative to train ‘Blue Light Champions’ is so incredibly important. I’m thrilled that there are now 70 Blue Light Champions at the East of England ambulance service, but we should recognise that this success wouldn’t be possible without the support and funding from UNISON.

“When I met with ambulance staff in North Norfolk last week, I was once again struck by the enormous pressures they are facing on a daily basis.  It makes it even more inspiring to see staff going the extra mile to support their colleagues, by committing to raise awareness of mental health problems and tackle the stigma in the workplace. They deserve our admiration and gratitude.

“It is important that we recognise this fantastic project as well as the need to better support our emergency services staff, which is why I intend to speak in Parliament tomorrow to pay tribute to all those involved.”

Fraer Stevenson, UNISON Branch Secretary, said:

“It’s testament to the caring nature of our staff that 70 ‘champions’ have already come forwards to undergo training, to help support their colleagues and raise awareness of mental health.

“UNISON is very proud to support the MIND blue light programme in the East of England Ambulance Service. Pressures are simply enormous on our staff and it’s vital that support is in place.

“This staff led network of blue light champions provides vital peer support for any staff who are struggling with their own mental health - and it’s important to recognise the work of these staff. The support of our local MIND co-ordinators as well as the staff who have come forwards should be highly commended.”

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Protect child refugees’ right to family reunion after Brexit

The Government must guarantee that child refugees can still be reunited with their family in the UK after Brexit, Norman Lamb demanded in Parliament today.

Under the EU’s ‘Dublin III Regulation’, child refugees have the right to be reunited with wider family members in Britain – brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles – if they have been orphaned or have no idea where their parents are.

However, there are concerns that unaccompanied children fleeing war and persecution will lose this right after Britain leaves the EU and ‘Dublin III’ ceases to apply, as the UK’s more restrictive immigration rules currently only enable children to be reunited with their parents.

In the House of Commons, Norman pointed out that some of the world’s most vulnerable children would be effectively abandoned if they have lost their parents – stranded overseas and left at risk of trafficking and abuse.  He urged the Government to guarantee that child refugees will still have the right to join other family members in the UK, by amending national Immigration Rules if necessary. He said:

“Will the Minister guarantee that unaccompanied children who are orphaned or have no idea where their parents are will still have the right to be reunited with family members—whether they are brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or grandparents—who are living in the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union? They are, after all, the most vulnerable children: the most vulnerable to traffickers and to others who seek to abuse them.”

However, Brexit Minister Robin Walker failed to provide this guarantee:

“The right hon. Gentleman is right: we should absolutely seek to continue our policy of generosity towards those children and ensure that our family reunion policy remains generous. We have reunited, and continue to reunite, many refugees with their immediate families: we have granted more than 23,000 family reunion visas ​over the past five years. Obviously, I cannot set out the details of what we will agree with the EU, but we intend to agree on significant co-operation in this space to ensure that we can continue to bring families together.”

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Norman said this did not go far enough:

“The mood music was encouraging but I’m after a guarantee, I’m not after words that can easily be evaded when the time comes.  We need the government to be clear on this.

“The danger is that when we leave the EU, you’ll be just left with the UK’s own immigration rules, and in effect it means that the most vulnerable children – orphans who have lost both parents, or indeed children who have no idea where their parents might be but have a family member in this country – would have no right to be reunited.

“They would effectively be abandoned, and that means children at risk from traffickers and others who seek to abuse them.  So I want the government to guarantee that children who are orphans, or who have no idea where their parents are, will still after Brexit have the right to come to this country to join family members.”

Lily Caprani from UNICEF UK said:

“It's critical that Brexit doesn't put at risk the ability of children fleeing war and persecution to reach the safety of their close family in the UK. Now is the time for the UK government to broaden its own rules and ensure the protection of unaccompanied refugee children. This means simply widening the definition of family to allow children to be reunited with siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well as their parents. This will not take complex negotiations with the EU, it's simply a matter of the Home Office changing its own rules.”

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Thank You for joining me on my Village Tour!

 

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Speaking to local residents outside St John the Baptist Church, Trimingham

I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who turned out to speak to me during my annual 'Village Tour' of North Norfolk last week!

I always look forward to the Village Tour, which is a fantastic opportunity to speak to people in their own villages and listen to their concerns.  It’s something I’ve done every year since being elected in 2001. It's hard to believe that this was actually my sixteenth summer tour - and it was one of the biggest yet, with around 200 people coming along for a chat.  

We dealt with an extraordinary range of issues, from personal problems to national and international concerns. The NHS and social care, local schools, highways, flooding, mobile and broadband coverage, offshore wind and Brexit to name just a few. 

I have taken up over 130 issues for local residents as a result of the tour, which I look forward to pursuing over the coming weeks and months.

As ever, I'm very grateful for the large numbers of people who came to see me - including those who braved the torrential rain! I always feel very privileged to represent such a beautiful constituency, and am already looking forward to next year’s tour.

Norman

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Rent reforms having 'chilling effect' on supported housing in Norfolk

Read the report in the Eastern Daily Press (4th August)

The Government's proposed reforms to the rent system for for supported housing are having a “chilling effect” on investment in Housing with Care schemes in Norfolk, Norman Lamb has warned. 

A letter to Mr Lamb from Steve Blatch, Corporate Director and Head of Paid Service at North Norfolk District Council, has revealed that the provision of new Housing with Care schemes in the county “has stalled” as a result of uncertainty created by the Government’s plans.

One of the schemes put at risk is in Fakenham, which would see 66 homes provided for those with supported living needs. The scheme has now stalled even though planning permission has been granted.

Housing with Care is supported housing which allows older and disabled people to live an independent life in their own flat, with a team of care professionals on hand 24 hours a day to provide support when needed. It offers a valuable alternative to those who would otherwise have to move into residential care or a nursing home.

Under changes announced by the Government, however, the amount of supported housing rent that Housing Benefit can be used to cover will be capped to the level of the relevant Local Housing Allowance (LHA) from April 2019. Rent reductions are also being applied to supported housing schemes, meaning that rents will decrease by 1% a year for the 3 year period up to 2019/20.

The Government has consulted on a new funding model under which local authorities would receive ‘top-up’ funding to cover the anticipated shortfall between actual rents and the LHA rate. While the outcome of the consultation is not yet known, there remain serious concerns that Housing with Care schemes – which have higher rents than general needs housing schemes – will no longer be financially viable.

Norman Lamb has written to the Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, to demand that the Government removes the uncertainty about the viability of Housing with Care, and provides the reassurances necessary to allow new schemes to proceed.

Commenting, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said:

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of these plans, which seem to be having a chilling effect on investment in new supported housing in Norfolk. Housing for Care is vital in allowing older people to maintain their independence when they would otherwise have to move into residential or nursing care, but this is being put at real risk by this ongoing uncertainty. No new schemes are proceeding and the viability of existing schemes has also been thrown into doubt.

“We need to maintain a strong supply of supported housing to meet the needs of an older population, so it is critically important that ministers act quickly to address this uncertainty by announcing that any shortfall between rents and the LHA cap will be covered by central government. It would amount to a neglect of the needs of older people if this situation is allowed to drag on.”

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